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Sometimes Close-ups Are Better From Far Away

In this post, Steve Berardi from the PhotoNaturalist explains why sometimes close-up photos are better from far away.

When you think of close-up photography, you probably think of getting in close with a macro lens. After all, it’s called “close-up” photography, right?

Although you can certainly create some awesome images when you’re up close to an object, sometimes it also helps to get farther away. This will give you a lot more control of what to put in the background.

This is best illustrated with an example, so let’s say you have this toy Lego that you want to photograph in front of a blue water bottle. We’ll start with a super closeup photo at about 60 cm away from the Lego:


But, this photo has a pretty distracting background–you can barely see the blue water bottle and there’s a distracting wine bottle off to the left there. So, watch what happens as you move farther away from the toy Lego:


Finally, at 240 cm away you have that nice blue background. But, you might be wondering what’s going on here: why did you have to get farther away from the toy Lego to get that better background?

Well, there’s a fundamental rule about image composition that’s important to remember:

As you move closer to an object, that object increases in size more quickly than objects in the background.

That means, as you move farther from an object, that object will decrease in size more quickly than the objects in its background.

So, in the example above, as I moved the camera farther from the toy Lego, the toy Lego got smaller in the image faster than the blue water bottle did.

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, because the basic idea is simple: as you move farther away from an object, you get more control of what to place in the background.

And, since the background plays such a large role in a close-up photo, many times you need this extra control.

What matters is the distance from camera to subject

In the photos above, the only thing that changed between each photo was the distance between my camera and the Lego. I used the exact same camera settings for each photo (f/5.6, 0.8 sec, ISO 400), and the exact same lens (100mm f/2.8 macro).

Normally, as you move farther away from your subject, you’d also want to use a longer lens to fill the frame, but I wanted to make it clear that it’s the distance that really matters here. So, I used the same lens at each distance and simply cropped the photos in post-processing.

There’s a common misconception in photography that focal length causes these differences in perspective, but it’s really the camera to subject distance that matters. For a similar example, checkout this post I wrote about landscape photography.

Can’t you just move your background closer?

Another option that’s available sometimes is to just move your background closer to the object you’re photographing. But, this isn’t always possible (especially with nature photography, where you’re often stuck with the background that’s already there).

Keeping your background farther away from your subject also helps keep it out of focus, which is another important aspect of closeup photography. That out of focus background will help make your subject look sharper.

About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer and software developer, who can usually be found hiking in the mountains of California or the forests of the midwestern United States.

You can read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist.

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